The King’s men couldn’t put him back together, and – according to a new book – poor old Humpty Dumpty may still be buried in the Colchester mud.

It is one of the town’s many claims to fame that the renowned nursery rhyme character was actually a huge cannon which was shot off the top of St Mary’s Church during the English Civil War.

In a newly-published study of the history of children’s verses, author Albert Jack speculates that, after its “great fall”, Humpty’s shattered pieces may have become trapped forever in thick mud on the other side of the Roman wall.

He says the reason the Royalist war machine could not be reassembled might simply have been that troops could not find all the pieces, which may still be lying beneath what is now the Balkerne Hill dual carriageway.

Although Balkerne Hill has been extensively excavated in the past, Colchester Archaeological Trust’s Philip Crummy said the stretch near St Mary’s – now Colchester Arts Centre – had not been part of the digs.

However, he said he doubted Humpty’s broken parts were really still lying beneath the wheels of queuing town centre traffic.

“The Roman wall is just a short distance away from the tower,” Mr Crummy told the Gazette.

“When the cannon was blown off, I think it would have just hit the wall and crashed down in the churchyard.”

Whatever happened to him, Humpty Dumpty will remain part of the proud heritage of a town which has produced more than its fair share of nursery rhymes.

Old King Cole is said to have been an attempt to explain how Colchester got its name, while Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star was written in 1806 by sisters Jane and Ann Taylor, of West Stockwell Street.

  • Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes, published by Penguin, is on sale now priced £12.99.